Facebook won't share, so Google won't play

Faith Merino · November 5, 2010 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/136b

Google shuts off ability to import data from Google Contacts to Facebook

As the oldest of eleven kids, I learned a long time ago that when someone tries to take your stuff, you go for the head...which is more or less what Google is doing. In a manner of speaking.

The Google/Facebook war wages on, but on Friday Google added a new weapon to its arsenal: Google will no longer share data from Google Contacts with another service that is not willing to share in turn.  What “service” would this be?  None other than Facebook, which recently tweaked its platform to allow users to download their Facebook information onto their own computers, except for contacts. 

So what exactly does this mean?  When you sign up for a Facebook account, you have the option of uploading your email contacts to find out which of your friends are already on Facebook.  It’s a quick, efficient means of padding out your friends list so you don’t look like a pitiful loner.  The problem is that Facebook does not allow this to work in reverse—you can’t sign up for an email account with Gmail or Yahoo and upload your Facebook contacts.  Ergo, Google isn’t playing anymore.

I can’t imagine that this will cause any real injury to Facebook.  Personally, I’ve never actually used the contact upload feature, as my contacts aren’t necessarily “friends.”  But I certainly don’t speak for everyone, so who knows whether this will actually hurt Facebook in any tangible way.  Facebook users can still upload contacts from Hotmail and Yahoo accounts.

Either way, it’s probably a good thing that someone finally pointed out Facebook’s attempted monopoly on the social graph.  Over the summer, Twitter launched a new feature that would allow users to sync their Facebook and Twitter accounts to upload their Facebook friends onto their Twitter accounts, and Facebook promptly blocked the feature.

Google’s Marissa Mayer, VP of search and user experience, has also complained about Facebook’s unwillingness to share. “There is a lot of content that is being locked in,” she said, admitting that some of that information is locked in for privacy reasons, but added that, “you should still be able to find the information that’s relevant to you, that you would otherwise have access to.”

Google’s statement on the matter is as follows:

Google is committed to making it easy for users to get their data into and out of Google products. That is why we have a data liberation engineering team dedicated to building import and export tools for users. We are not alone. Many other sites allow users to import and export their information, including contacts, quickly and easily. But sites that do not, such as Facebook, leave users in a data dead end.

So we have decided to change our approach slightly to reflect the fact that users often aren’t aware that once they have imported their contacts into sites like Facebook they are effectively trapped. Google users will still be free to export their contacts from our products to their computers in an open, machine-readable format–and once they have done that they can then import those contacts into any service they choose. However, we will no longer allow websites to automate the import of users’ Google Contacts (via our API) unless they allow similar export to other sites.

It’s important that when we automate the transfer of contacts to another service, users have some certainty that the new service meets a baseline standard of data portability. We hope that reciprocity will be an important step towards creating a world of true data liberation–and that this move will encourage other websites to allow users to automate the export of their contacts as well.

Image source: babble.com

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